What Do High-End Graphics Cards Cost In Terms Of Electricity?

Many reviews analyze the minimum and maximum power consumption of a given graphics card. But just how much power does a high-end graphics card really need during the course of standard operation? This long-term test sheds some light on that question.

We wanted to take a less conventional approach to a question that comes up in just about every graphics card review, and actually measure the power that gets consumed between turning your computer on (let’s say for a gaming and email session) and up until it is turned off again. 

Our feeling was that the usual extrapolations and estimates using minimum and maximum power readings don’t do justice to everyday operation. Therefore, we decided to measure the actual power consumption over a certain period of time and with different usage models, because most people do not just turn on their computers and play games without ever doing something else.

Defining that "something else" is actually rather important. As we measure and monitor power consumption during a longer testing period, we also add frequently-used programs and services to check whether or not these would increase power consumption compared to true idle operation. In addition to games in windowed and full-screen applications, other hardware-accelerated tasks include video playback and D2D/D3D content in windowed mode.

Obviously, we are mostly interested in finding out the true, total power consumption in real life, rather than the peak load or idle values. This brings us to the core of today’s examination: it is no secret that powerful graphics cards are expensive, but do they really use that much more power? Will a gaming PC with a powerful 3D graphics board really bring your electricity bill up over time? If so, by how much?

We set out to do some testing, and it turned out to be a lot like mixed fuel consumption and mileage testing on a car. The difference is that we're representing our results in watt-hours instead of miles per gallon or kilometers per liter.

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    Top Comments
  • scook9
    They are also neglecting the positive side effects like not needing a space heater in the winter....you recoup alot of energy right there :D
    13
  • damric
    I don't get it. Are they saying that a GTX 480 will cost a hard core gamer $90/year in electricity? Seems like a drop in the bucket considering my power bills are over $90/month in the winter and over $250/month in the summer. Just think of all the money the hard core gamer saves from not having a girlfriend :D
    12
  • Other Comments
  • alikum
    Nvidia cards consume power like crazy
    3
  • damric
    I don't get it. Are they saying that a GTX 480 will cost a hard core gamer $90/year in electricity? Seems like a drop in the bucket considering my power bills are over $90/month in the winter and over $250/month in the summer. Just think of all the money the hard core gamer saves from not having a girlfriend :D
    12
  • scook9
    They are also neglecting the positive side effects like not needing a space heater in the winter....you recoup alot of energy right there :D
    13
  • porksmuggler
    ^Tell me about it, warmest room in the house right here. Turn the thermostat down, and boot the rig up.

    Typo on the enthusiast graph. calculations are correct, but it should be 13ct/kWh, not 22ct/kWh.
    3
  • jimslaid2
    Glad I bought the 6870 over the gtx 460 1g
    3
  • aznshinobi
    The fact that you mentioned a porsche. no matter what the context. I love that you mentioned it :D
    4
  • AMW1011
    So at worst, my GTX 480 is costing me $90 a year? Sorry if I'm not alarmed...

    Also I can't imagine having 8 hours of gaming time every day. 5 hours even seems extreme. Sometimes, you just can't game AT ALL in a day, or a week.

    Some people do have lives...
    7
  • nebun
    alikumNvidia cards consume power like crazy

    who cares....if you have the money to buy them you can pay for the electricity...it's just like SUVs, you have the money to buy them you can keep them running
    -2
  • nebun
    AMW1011So at worst, my GTX 480 is costing me $90 a year? Sorry if I'm not alarmed...Also I can't imagine having 8 hours of gaming time every day. 5 hours even seems extreme. Sometimes, you just can't game AT ALL in a day, or a week.Some people do have lives...

    i run my 480 sli rig to fold almost 24/7...do i care about my bill...HELL NO
    0
  • Darkerson
    Very nice article! Keep it up!
    1
  • Kodiack
    Your enthusiastic profiles aren't all that enthusiastic. :( I'm sure my Radeon 5970+5870 tri-CrossFire combination will cost me quite a few dollars over the months. Fortunately, I've got some pretty good power-saving features in use to lighten the pain.
    -1
  • ohseus
    I;d be curious to see a toaster, a microwave,a light bulb or ceiling fan (some thing of hat sort) added the power consumption list for comparisons sake.
    2
  • eddieroolz
    A very interesting article. I only game once every few days if at all now, so I guess it makes sense for me to stay with my GTS 250 for now.

    By the way, space heater ftw!
    2
  • compton
    It would be really useful to know what a folding setup running 24/7 costs. Perhaps one day you could use it to get a "Folding for the Future" tax credit on the books. Maybe Toms can lead the lobbying effort in Washington.


    Compared to the 4000w, 240v industrial space heater I was using over Christmas, my computer will have to work all year to match the utility cost.

    I second "space heater ftw!"
    4
  • pinkfloydminnesota
    Great article. I hope you can somehow include these costs in reviews as electricity costs go higher and video cards get more powerful.

    I am able to lower the heat in my Minnesota corner room tx to the pc on the floor and the screens on the desk!
    0
  • sudeshc
    absolutely right that if you can buy them you can run them.
    0
  • Anonymous
    39$ / year? Why an article about it? Lobbying?
    -1
  • liquidsnake718
    Yes! Score for my (now og) 5850!!!!!!!!!!!! What about in crossfire though?
    0
  • emergancy exit
    i think the main power burners are the people who buy high end graphics cards and then use them on old displays. wasting money on power your power bill without getting the benifit of higher resolution. that and cheap power suplies. i ALLWAYS see people use the cheapest power suply that fits their needs paying the extra $15-50 dollars really pays off in the long run. i still believe that your power suply can effect your power bill more then your other equipment.

    what i got from this article is that it really pays to have a power profile schedule and making use of puting yoru computer in sleep mode when your not useing it. and useing the windows power profile "balenced" and only use the high performance profile when you are gaming/number cruncher/redering/video editing
    0
  • adamcom25334
    Switchable Graphics - many laptops have it, but how many desktop MoBos allow for that?? None that I know of, even the ones with on-board video. Hoping that Sandy Bridge X68 will.
    0